Thursday February 27, 2014
Mardi Gras is in less than a week, and for whatever reason, you are just now deciding that you might just pack up the ol' station wagon and drive on down.
Well, I'm not going to try to talk you into or out of it, but I will say that yes, it is totally possible to plan a Mardi Gras trip at the last minute. Because the majority of the cool stuff that happens in the city (the parades and the French Quarter revelry, in particular) happens outside and is entirely free and un-ticketed, there's always time to join in the fun.
The hard part, of course, is going to be finding somewhere to sleep. French Quarter hotels are incredibly expensive during Mardi Gras, if you can even find a room (many of them are fully booked months in advance). And you can't just say, "I'll stay up all night," of course, because at midnight on Mardi Gras, the city shuts down. (Seriously, when the party's done, it's done. The cops clear everyone out of the Quarter and everything.)
And it's a pretty terrible idea to try showing up without any reservations at all, because you really might not find a room at all, and you don't want to be driving around at 1:00 after the Mardi Gras party looking for a room. I'm pretty sure there are horror movies that have started that way.
So where should you go? Well, I've got some ideas for places to look for rooms in my convenient mini-guide: Planning a Mardi Gras Trip at the Last Minute. Any other questions? Leave a comment and ask away!
French Quarter on Mardi Gras Day Image © Brad Coy / Creative Commons via Flickr
Thursday February 27, 2014
Are you stocking up your car's CD changer for a Mardi Gras road trip? Maybe you're packing your iThing full of tunes to listen to on the airplane to get yourself all psyched up for the big party. Or maybe, just maybe, you're stuck in one of those tragic places where Mardi Gras is just called Shrove Tuesday and is celebrated with a lonesome stack of pancakes. In any case (especially that last one), you're going to need some solid Mardi Gras tunes to get you through.
So here's what you're gonna do. You're gonna start with some solid New Orleans oldies; really iconic Mardi Gras rhythm and blues and funk sides, as recommended by About.com's Oldies Music Expert (who happens to be a New Orleanian), Robert Fontenot. Robert's recommendations include essentials like Professor Longhair's "Go To the Mardi Gras" and the Hawkettes' "Mardi Gras Mambo," among a whole slate of others, some of which you might be hearing for the first time. Get 'em all: The Top 10 Mardi Gras Oldies
And once you get your vintage New Orleans stuff taken care of, you're gonna dig into some rough and ready Cajun and Zydeco tunes. These will, of course, include the spooky, ancient-sounding "Danse de Mardi Gras," but also some more upbeat, dance-ready tunes that'll have you two-stepping in your airplane seat: Cajun and Zydeco Songs for Mardi Gras
And from there, you'll want to make sure you've got some of the best of the contemporary brass band and trad jazz scenes represented, so get you some Treme Brass Band and some Kermit Ruffins and some Rebirth and some Soul Rebels, and that might get you through your roadtrip/plane trip/sad stack of pancakes.
Kermit Ruffins Image © Derek Bridges / Creative Commons via Flickr
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Among the gazillion or so Mardi Gras traditions that make the holiday so deeply entertaining is the annual Greasing of the Poles. This year's celebration, the 44th of its kind, will be taking place on Friday, February 28 at 10:00 am sharp.
But, Megan, when you say "greasing of the poles," you mean...?
Well, not what you think. But close. First off, a little bit of background: Bourbon Street balconies are a very hot commodity during Mardi Gras. Despite the fact that Mardi Gras parades no longer roll through the French Quarter, it's the epicenter for ribald revelry on Mardi Gras and the preceding days. And the best view of it all is, of course, from the balconies, which offer the perfect vantage point from which to survey the mayhem below.
For many years, enterprising youngsters would try to make their way onto the balconies by climbing the support poles and shimmying up. For the sake of security (and their bottom lines), French Quarter hoteliers and restaurateurs began greasing the poles to keep the non-paying customers on the ground.
In the years to follow, the annual Greasing of the Poles started to become something of a spectacle, and pretty quickly became an attraction in and of itself.
It's easy enough to see why. This year's pole-greasers are members of the Fleur de Tease burlesque ensemble, who will use their wit, their dance skills, and a tub of Vaseline to compete for the title of "Best Greasing Performance of 2014" in front of three celebrity judges: Chef John Folse, comedian Jodi Borrello, and New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins.
The Master of Ceremonies will be Mad Men actor and New Orleanian Bryan Batt.
On hand for additional entertainment will be jazz trumpeter Leroy Jones and his Original Hurricane Brass Band, as well as the all-female marching group the Pussyfooters of New Orleans, and some of the New Orleans Saintsations, who'll lead the rowdy onlookers in cheers.
The King and Queen of Zulu will also be on hand for a champagne toast which will officially kick off the proceedings and the weekend to come. Join the fun if you're in town; it's really quite a riot, and totally free to watch. Head on down to 300 Bourbon Street. You can't miss it.
Image Provided by the Royal Sonesta
Thursday February 20, 2014
I have yet to meet a Mardi Gras or Carnival that I haven't loved. Trinidad's wild Carnival, Rio's enormous Carnaval, Italy's glamorous Carnevale, and, of course, Mardi Gras in New Orleans. They're all different, but since they're all about having as much fun as possible before the solemnity of Lent begins, they're all a total blast.
But New Orleans' famous Mardi Gras is not, in fact, the only Mardi Gras tradition that Louisiana has to offer. Sure, lots of smaller cities (Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Houma, etc.) have their own Mardi Gras celebrations, but they're mostly smaller facsimiles of the New Orleans-style parades and balls.
If you get out into the country, though, you'll discover something entirely different. Prairie Cajun communities, mostly in the areas around Eunice and Mamou, have their own style of Mardi Gras, and you've never seen anything like it.
This masked begging ritual is straight out of the Middle Ages, and is related folklorically to the English and Irish Mummers, as well as traditions of Wassailing and even trick-or-treating. Celebrants get decked out in wild-colored costumes and travel on foot or on horseback around their rural communities, trailed by traditional Cajun bands who play, among other songs, a specific spooky, ancient tune called "La Danse de Mardi Gras" that describes the events of the day.
As the riders and runners go from house to house, they collect ingredients for a communal gumbo to be made later in the day: rice, smoked sausage, maybe some onions or peppers, or the pièce de résistance, a live chicken, which flees for its life as several dozen drunk costumed riders chase after it, through mud, brambles, or any other obstacles. (It's either hilarious or horrifying to watch, depending on your stance on birds' rights.)
And there's beer. So much beer.
But really, the experience is just vastly different than the one you'd have in New Orleans, and it's worth seeing at least once. It is possible to see a bit of both, of course -- one could easily attend parades and parties in New Orleans on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, and then zip over to Cajun Country for Fat Tuesday itself.
If you're really ambitious and have a good designated driver, you could even be back in New Orleans by dinnertime (most of the Cajun runs start shortly after sunup and are back to cook gumbo by lunchtime), though really, you're probably better off giving each one a few days of its own. Great fun, all around.
Want to check it out? Learn more:
Cajun Mardi Gras Image © Megan Romer